The persistent Kansas City Wizards rose to the top of the Western Conference on Saturday night by virtue of a hard fought 1-0 victory over the visiting San Jose Earthquakes at Arrowhead Stadium, with Diego Gutierrez the biggest hero of the night after scoring the only goal of the game seven minutes from the end.
Gutierrez sent a low roller past Pat Onstad as the Wizards reclaimed the top spot in the West thanks to the Colorado loss in New England -- and sent the defending MLS champions back into fifth place in the conference.
The match took on a playoff feel from the start that would remain throughout as the first stanza was bookended by two furious series of chances.
But after the initial storm, the match ran typical to form as San Jose held possession while searching for ways through or around the Wizards vaunted defense. The focused Wizards back line tackled hard, leaving a few Quakes on the pitch, and gave no ground willingly.
Kansas City countered when able and was often able to manufacture opportunities. However, the Wizards were lacking the final ball as their boots seemed to be overly charged as many passes went long, usually right to the correctly positioned Onstad.
The Wizards ignited the second flurry of chances by threatening late in the 35th minute when forwards Davy Arnaud and Josh Wolff played an awkward one-two that left Wolff with space to fire at the top right of San Jose's box only to steer it wide left of Onstad's far post. Then four minutes later Arnaud ran onto a long ball and raced in alone on the Quake goal, only to touch the ball too hard into Onstad.
Then in the 43rd minute the Earthquakes would have struck if not for midfielder Kerry Zavagnin taking position on Bo Oshoniyi's left post and twice clearing away attempts from the goal line. The Wizards immediately replied as Wolff latched onto another through ball, vaulted Onstad and played the ball across the box where right midfielder Alex Zotinca struck spot on but Onstad had recovered and saved the low shot.
Oshoniyi then nearly gifted the Quakes what would have been a momentum changing goal when he flubbed a shot by the near post deflecting it far post for the onrushing Brian Mullan who was unable to take advantage.
A pain in the side of San Jose's collective back four all night, Wolff received a defense-splitting ball from Arnaud in the 58th minute and headed for goal with a defender on his back and Onstad coming to meet him. At the far left side of the goal area, Onstad was able to smother Wolff's desperate flick on goal.
The intense but shadowed Landon Donovan got his best chance in the 61st minute as he ran with the ball straight down the middle of the Wizards' box until Nick Garcia foiled the chance strongly sticking out his foot to knock the ball away.
Each team tightened ship midway through the second half but it was the Wizards who once again broke through in the 71st minute. The ball was nodded down for the persistent Wolff who volleyed a knuckling shot that Onstad awkwardly blocked.
Finally in the 82nd minute, the defining moment of the match arrived as Arnaud's continual playmaking paid off. Given space on the left, just outside the Quakes box, Arnaud tapped to the supporting Gutierrez who hit a first time roller that beat Onstad and nicked his left post before settling into the back of the net for his third goal of the season.
The Wizards return to MLS action next weekend when they play host to the Colorado Rapids (8:30 p.m. ET), but first on Wednesday they will have a chance to add to their trophy case when they play host to the Chicago Fire in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final. The Earthquakes return home where they take on California rival Los Angeles Galaxy at Spartan Stadium on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; FSW/E).
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Davy Arnaud (Kansas City Wizards)
San Jose Earthquakes (9-9-7) vs. Kansas City Wizards (11-9-5)
September 18, 2004 -- Arrowhead Stadium
KC -- Diego Gutierrez 3 (Davy Arnaud 8) 82
San Jose Earthquakes -- Pat Onstad, Craig Waibel, Ryan Cochrane (Chris Brown 85), Troy Dayak, Jeff Agoos (Todd Dunivant 87), Brian Mullan, Ronnie Ekelund (Ian Russell 87), Richard Mulrooney, Ramiro Corrales, Landon Donovan, Brian Ching.
Substitutes Not Used: Jon Conway, Eddie Robinson.
TOTAL SHOTS: 12 (Landon Donovan 3, Richard Mulrooney 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 6 (Troy Dayak 2, Richard Mulrooney 2); FOULS: 20 (Brian Mullan 5); OFFSIDES: 0; CORNER KICKS: 7 (Jeff Agoos 7); SAVES: 8 (Pat Onstad 8)
Kansas City Wizards -- Bo Oshoniyi, Taylor Graham (Francisco Gomez 78), Jimmy Conrad, Nick Garcia, Jose Burciaga Jr., Jack Jewsbury, Diego Gutierrez, Kerry Zavagnin, Alex Zotinca, Josh Wolff (Justin Detter 90), Davy Arnaud.
Substitutes Not Used: Will Hesmer, Vuk Rasovic, Brian Roberts, Khari Stephenson, Matt Taylor, Shavar Thomas, Diego Walsh.
TOTAL SHOTS: 18 (Josh Wolff 6); SHOTS ON GOAL: 9 (Josh Wolff 4); FOULS: 9 (Jimmy Conrad 3); OFFSIDES: 1 (Jack Jewsbury 1); CORNER KICKS: 4 (Josh Wolff 3); SAVES: 6 (Bo Oshoniyi 3)
SJ -- Brian Mullan (caution; Professional Foul) 89
SJ -- Landon Donovan (caution; Dissent) 92+
KC -- Jose Burciaga Jr. (caution; Game Disrepute) 95+
Referee: Alex Prus
Referee's Assistants: -Richard Eddy; Chip Reed
4th Official: Ali Saheli
Weather: Partly Cloudy-and-83-degrees
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.